David Bernstein

For Chicago Lawyer Bob Clifford, 9/11 Case Could Be His Biggest Yet

SHOWDOWN ON GROUND ZERO: At the center of a huge 9/11 lawsuit—a $1.2 billion property damage case—is the Chicagoan Robert Clifford, one of the top aviation lawyers in the nation

By David Bernstein

Aviation lawyer Robert Clifford
“When I see a wrong, I want to right it,” says Clifford, pictured in the conference room of his Loop law office.

Sitting at a table in a hotel conference room in Portland, Maine, the Chicago personal injury attorney Robert Clifford studied the man who had once famously—or infamously—stared into the eyes of the devil.

On this day in November 2006, Clifford was deposing Michael Touhey, a former US Airways ticket taker who had checked in Mohamed Atta and a second al-Qaeda terrorist in the early morning of September 11, 2001. Hours later, Atta piloted a connecting flight into the World Trade Center. Questioned by Clifford, Touhey recounted how the two terrorists approached his counter in a rush to catch the 6 a.m. flight to Boston. The ticket agent recalled having a bad feeling. Atta had the eyes of a killer—the devil—Touhey said. And there were other red flags: The two men arrived just minutes before departure, and they had $2,500 one-way first-class tickets, though business travelers typically fly roundtrip.